Deadbeat Companies

Over at HR Fishbowl, Charlie had a thought-provoking article on what a “deadbeat employee” looks like and the need to get rid of them because they suck the life out of the rest of your employees. Interesting, for sure, but I think some of the points about deadbeat employees are the direct result of something else:

Deadbeat companies.

Companies, and their management, significantly impact how employees engage in their work. Not 100%, mind you, but a significant amount. An amount such that even the best employees can get beaten down to the point where the first question of the day becomes “What is the new truth today and I’ll just go do it?”

Companies, you know, have a much bigger power place — the power to lay you off in a New York Minute comes to mind — than any particular employee. Beating the initiative out of an employee is relatively easy to do. Take one bad manager, mix in new company policies, impact pay and watch how engaged your employees are in their work.

How can you tell if your company is a deadbeat company?

1. Companies that layoff employees and let the intellectual property they have walk out the door with them

Here’s my opinion: every layoff is the fault of management. Management didn’t see something coming, didn’t set up the departments right, didn’t move people into different roles that better suits the person, didn’t integrate the new purchase right, hired too many people, spent too much money, didn’t prepare for the business downturn and on and on and on. And when it comes to cost cutting, often the very first option on the cost cutting list is a layoff.

Whatever amount of knowledge, skill and context those people have will now be enjoyed by your competitors. Nice going.

2. Companies that are more concerned about the time you spend than the results you make

The amount of effort management expends ensuring you are at the office, limiting your time off, focusing on “butts in the chair,” and hounding you about being ten minutes late in the middle of a blizzard is astonishing. You want to focus on the time spent at work? That’s the result you get: time spent at work. And then management calls all these people out as lazy bums who don’t want to work when the focus of management has nothing to do with results, only time.

3. Management that refuses to manage by making the hard choices

You see it all the time: there is conflict in your department about what to do about something. There are strong opinions — and options — on both sides. Rather than engaging in the conversations, listening to all sides, finding the best out of all the options, management fails and chooses the worst of both worlds. Or fails to choose at all.

The result? Employees who no longer will offer up options, who no longer will fiercely defend what they think is right, and no longer work to find even better solutions through the conflict. All that makes no difference; management will just do “whatever.” Watch how fast employee engagement goes away when that happens.

4. Companies that increase the pay of their CEO while freezing or taking away benefits from employees

Yeah, it’s okay for that CEO to get the 27% pay raise — on the backs of the employees who did the work to carry out what the CEO wanted. That’s sure to increase engagement on the job.

5. Companies that say employees are their “greatest asset” and then totally ignore them when making decisions

Amazing how fast those “greatest asset” employees transition to a faceless labor cost commodity that produce widgets of work. Do you think employees don’t notice the hypocrisy? Trust me, they do.

Now, there are deadbeat employees out there. Management’s job is to make sure the true deadbeats are not taking the place down. But if you think half your company consists of deadbeats, it’s time to look at the company and the management. Because maybe the deadbeats are on the other side of the desk.

Do you work for a deadbeat company?

  • Career Conflicted says:


    I would love your opinion as it relates to my somewhat “deadbeat company” and my job search. I have read a great majority of your posts including those that deal with deciding to stay or leave a company, and this article ties those in to my current situaion. I work for a “deadbeat company” going through some major organizational change. Only the future will tell if new management will lead the company in a positive direction. Due to my dissatisfaction with the previous management team, I sought out another company and received an offer. The new position would mean a promotion, a raise and signifigantly decreased commute- 15 min down from 1 hour each way. All of this sounds like a no brainer; however, I am having difficulty with the decision because my current employer countered, which was a HUGE step that shows positive change could be coming(they didn’t meet the offer, but close). I love the current team of people I work with, including my manager, but the body of work is not really what I deem as exciting or challenging. However, this new offer comes from a company that is significantly smaller (less then $15 mill in revenue), and that always poses threats regarding stability. I guess my simplified question would be, “Do you stay with a company purely for the people and hope that positive change will come?”

    • This, interestingly, is a good conflict because you have two companies that value your work. It doesn’t make it easier for you to decide — but at least you have a choice! Good for you.

      Let me put some things out there based entirely on what you have written in no particular order of importance and let’s see if it helps you with a decision:

      – Somewhere long ago I read that people who accept a counter offer from their current company end up leaving about a year later for someplace else. The reason? The underlying conditions at their current company didn’t really change.

      – And just because your current company countered, that does not make it a positive sign. All it does is show you your work is valued (whether it adds to your marketability is a different question…). It also shows your company that you are willing to move if things don’t get better and in an organizational change it also signals that you are completely employable someplace else, so we don’t need to worry about your ability to find a job…in this company…

      – I note that you say you like the current team and manager — but that the body of work you are doing is not exciting or challenging. This is a big red flag, in my opinion. To get to employment security, you need new work that helps build your job skills and can put you in a position to produce good business results for the company. Getting bored from your current body of work is the kiss of death for producing results. Sure, you may like the people, but your skills and performance have no chance of increasing.

      – Small companies are often MORE stable than large ones — large ones will lay off 5,000 people at a time and think nothing of it. Smaller companies tend (not always, but usually) to focus better on keeping good employees. Unless you think this new company is in a market that is cratering or is poorly run that would make you think they may go down, I wouldn’t say this is any less risky than a “major organizational change” in your current company. Major organizational changes mean things are bad where you are and only a wholesale change can make it better. That’s less risky? It may mean it is time to go.

      – Besides the outward signals of promotion, raise, and less commute (the commute, to me is a big deal), does it look like the work will give you the opportunity to add to your job skills and put you in a position to produce results? If so, that makes it a strong reason to move.

      – So go totally selfish here: which position gives you the opportunity to increase your job skills, give you the ability to produce business results, and helps you build your business network so that you are more marketable? This is a paradigm shift — companies only want to use your job skills to reach their business objectives. Some one may care about you and your career in a company (perhaps your manager), but the truth of the matter is that a company won’t care. Thus, you need to care about yourself and your career because your company won’t (which includes the counter offer…).

      – If you’ve been with a company a long time and then leave, I’ve found that often you will go to the next place — not necessarily because of the right reasons, but to get away from a bad situation — and discover the new place isn’t for you. If that is the case, don’t think twice about looking again in a year for something else whether you stay or you go. Don’t beat yourself up if what you do doesn’t work out — just go looking again before your skills and results don’t make you marketable.

      All that is a lot of nuance, but the important point is your marketability and continuing to build it so you are employable (employment, not job, security is what counts).

      My simplified answer to your question, “Do you stay with a company purely for the people and hope that positive change will come?” is…no. Change is hard in a company, culture is very difficult to change, you won’t see the results of the change for at least a year, and the risk of getting caught in the crossfire is simply too great.

      Your risk of staying or leaving is equal and you are getting a promotion, work that excites you, and some personal benefits as well. You may get there and end up hating the culture, but to me, it is worth the risk.

      Thanks for asking; it really is what this site is all about — a place to figure out what you want to do in a career.

      Use the Contact page and let me know your decision and how it goes. I’d really like to know.

  • Scot, your opinion please. I was laid off last October with 22 years tenure from a company with over 5,000 employees. Within a week my prior management was calling wanting me to explain how to extract, perform an analysis, and present the analysis of SAP metrics through Crystal Reports. As far as I’m concerned that was totally unacceptable behavior by management. I politely explained to them that if they wanted that knowledge I would certainly work up a training primer but I would bill them at $150 per hour that I invested in the primer. Surprisingly they have not called back.

    • Precise, correct response. When a company lays you off and you are now out the door, you are under no obligation to perform work. For everyone else reading this comment, think about it: by laying you off, your company just told you that the work you do has no value to them reaching their business goals so they are letting you go. Why would you now turnaround and start answering all their questions at home about your work when the only one getting any value out of it is the company?

      Work is a two-way street and too many of us in the above situation would have caved. We wouldn’t have been happy about it, complained about it — but would have answered the questions. The real problem here is that answering the questions is a false attempt to show value to the company in hopes of…what…getting your job back?…or to prove to yourself that you really did have value since they called you? Either way, it’s not a position of strength.

      One needs to know that value is provided from the work you do. You need to have the attitude that you are worth the value and get paid for it. Oftentimes the value is only recognized is when you say, “no.”

      Without this attitude and belief that you bring value to the company through the work you do, you will never get to employment security. Nor will you have the faith and confidence in yourself to leave a bad situation when it warrants and say no in situations like this. It is called integrity to your values. All of us could use a little calling out on matching up our integrity to our values with our work. This wasn’t one of them.

      Nice going.

  • #2 is the most annoying of all. I’ve worked at an organization like that in a previous position. Not only is horrible for morale, it’s completely inefficient.

    • I really don’t get the whole “bum in the chair” approach. Interestingly, when management tries to implement a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) where time doesn’t matter but the results do, the most difficult task for management is…defining what results they want out of the work.

      It’s easy to track time. It’s easy to define time. Looking for results requires a manager to understand the business to figure out the accomplishments you should go after in your work. And more difficult to set up systems to measure the progress to the goals. Tracking time is a cop-out.

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